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India’s literacy rate lowest among the largest economies

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By Ramon Collado

As of 2015, the literacy rate in India is 72.1 per cent, which entails that over 300 million Indians do not have the ability to read and write. Interestingly, nations that compete with India in trade; services; and industry boast high levels of literacy among their populations—South Africa, for instance, accounts with a literacy rate of 94 per cent; Singapore 96.8 per cent and Taiwan 98.5 per cent. More importantly, China, India’s greatest competitor—India and China are the largest economies in Asia; only trailing Japan—accounts with a 96.4 per cent literacy rate.

With a population of over 1.2 billion, India, the 7th largest economy on the planet, may not be able to maintain a symmetrical pace towards economic development vis-à-vis its rival economies, due to its poor education expenditure; hence, India’s status as an economic powerhouse can turn into an ephemeral, economic boom. If India fails to increase its education expenditure; its economy will fall behind its competitors and slump.

The annual GDP (gross domestic product) of India is 1.8 trillion; however, only 3.9 per cent of it goes to the education system. Japan, a nation that has achieved economic development invests 9.6 per cent of its 4.9 trillion GDP. More specifically, when one compares India to Brazil—a proportional comparison as Brazil and India are similar economies; Brazil surpasses India’s investment with a 6.3 per cent education expenditure of its 1.8 trillion GDP.

India scored 37.8 out of 100—100 represents the best and 0 the worst—on 2015 Universitas 21 ranking of countries which are the best at providing higher education for their populations. India had the lowest score among the 10 largest economies on the planet—United States, China, Japan, Germany, United Kingdom, France, India, Brazil, Italy, and Canada. It also scored lower than most of its economic competitors: South Africa (45), Indonesia (38.8), Malaysia (55.4), Mexico (41.7) Singapore (80.3), Taiwan (63.6), and South Korea (60.5).

Emerging economies like Kenya, South Africa, Malaysia, and Nigeria refer to human capital flight (brain drain) as a serious problem, India is not the exception. Human capital flight is caused by a country’s political instability, low education expenditure, low salaries, lack of job opportunities and other factors. Brain drain prevents nations from benefiting from its skilled professionals as they opt for more attractive career opportunities abroad—30 million Indians working for the developed countries are highly skilled. More notable, skilled professionals that work abroad may wind up working for the competitor which can affect the development of the economy of their country of origin—for instance, an Indian, skilled professional that moves to China for a better salary.

India must not ignore the pitfalls of its education system; therefore, it must increase its education expenditure. At this pivotal point for emerging economies—Brazil, India— seeking for economic development, skilled professionals make the difference due to the innovative contributions they can bring into a developing nation. Therefore, welcoming programs for skilled professionals that have left the country can mitigate the brain drain issue in India. Also, job opportunities; grants; attractive salaries; robust investments in higher education and research-oriented programs dedicated to increase the literacy rate, can contribute to the development of the education system simultaneously motivating skilled professionals to remain in the country.

India will not achieve economic development with a poorly educated population; on the contrary, as India’s competitors propel their education systems, and India’s education expenditure remains stagnant, its economic development will decrease while the economies of countries that are prioritizing education become more robust. India must increase its education expenditure in order to secure an elite-class of human capital, thus, steadily advancing towards economic development.

Collado is a graduate candidate in international affairs at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs. The article was first published in The Hill.

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